Trained by whom?

By Dogtown Commoner | Posted at 1:00 am, October 4th, 2007 | Topic: iraq, the press

There’s one thing I haven’t seen mentioned in the coverage of Eric Erik Prince’s testimony to Congress yesterday. Prince is the founder and CEO of Blackwater, the security contractor that is under so much scrutiny for its role in Iraq. Some of the criticism of Blackwater has been that taxpayers are paying more to Blackwater that it would cost to have the same job done by the military itself. This came up in Prince’s testimony:

He also disputed the math that concludes security contractors cost far more than American forces to protect U.S. diplomatic personnel. In its report, Waxman’s committee said Blackwater charges the government $1,222 each day for a single security contractor, which works out to $445,000 on an annual basis. That’s six times the cost of a U.S. soldier, the report said.

Prince said there’s a large amount of expensive training for military personnel that the government pays for, but is not calculated in these unflattering estimates of what his company charges.

“That sergeant doesn’t show up naked and untrained,” Prince said.

Prince’s argument is that Blackwater needs to train and equip their employees, so any comparison should include the cost of training and equipping U.S. soldiers and marines, not just the cost of their salaries. This sounded somewhat plausible at first, but then I remembered something — most Blackwater contractors are former members of the most elite US armed forces (Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, etc). So in fact Blackwater hasn’t borne most of the costs of training their employees — in fact, it’s just the opposite: the US military is spending a huge amount of time and money training these elite troops, then Blackwater is hiring those people away and charging the US Government large amounts of money for their service.

So Prince’s argument is really nonsense — not only is Blackwater not paying many of the costs of training their employees, but in fact American taxpayers are further subsidizing Blackwater by training the people who go on to work for the company. To get a sense of how much training these troops get at taxpayer expense before they go on to work at Blackwater, see this job announcement at Talking Points Memo, which outlines the minimum experience of job applicants:

Please do not apply if you do not not meet these basic requirements.

· 8 years of Military service with qualifications in one of the following: US Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces or Rangers, Marine Force Recon, Air Force PJ or CCT

· Must have or be eligible for US Government Secret Clearance. Must be a US Citizen!

· Must have a minimum of one year experience in Iraq or Afghanistan

For Prince to claim that his company, rather than American taxpayers, is paying for the training of his employees seems quite disingenuous. I wish someone at the hearing, or someone in the press afterwards, had pointed out how little sense his defense actually made.